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Unique Liability Risks Involving Minors

Children on HorsesThis year, I was invited to speak at the American Youth Horse Council’s Virtual Symposium on the topic of “Unique Equine Liability Risks Involving Minors - What They Are and How to Protect Yourself.” This article summarizes my remarks.

Children and horses have a strong bond. Many of us developed our passion for horses when we were young children. Those who provide horse-related activities for children, such as riding instructors and camps, face unique risks because the law looks at children differently than adults.  

Liability Waivers/Releases and Minors: Take Caution

Courts in most states have shown a willingness to enforce liability waivers/releases – as long as the documents were properly worded and signed. Still, courts in several states (including, but not limited to, Alabama, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington) have held that parents cannot legally release the claims of their minor children. By comparison, a few other states (including, but not limited to, Alaska, California, Colorado, and Ohio) have allowed waivers/releases signed by a parent to bar claims of their injured children. (Keep in mind that the law changes on this issue.)

If you are an equine industry professional, these variations could mean that your well-worded liability waiver/release document may be powerless to stop a claim brought by an injured child, depending on the applicable law. Worse, as explained below, you might receive a child’s lawsuit several years in the future.

Statute of Limitations: It’s Different for Minors

Statutes of limitations are laws essentially setting forth deadlines for filing lawsuits. State laws vary considerably as to the time limit to file a lawsuit against a person or entity arising from a personal injury. One state allows up to six years for an injured person to file suit, while a few others allow only one year, with the rest of the states falling in between. Limited exceptions apply. When the injured person is a minor, these statutory time limits typically don’t apply. Most states allow minors to file suit within a certain period of time after they have reached the age of majority (age 18 in most states). This means that your student who fell off and broke his leg at age 8 could file suit against you at least 10 years after the accident. By then, you may have forgotten about what happened.

Equine Activity Liability Acts

Equine activity liability acts (now found in all states but California and Maryland) sometimes offer powerful defenses against personal injury claims. Laws in Oregon and Pennsylvania, by their terms, only apply to claims of injured adults. By comparison, the majority of these laws could potentially apply to claims of injured children. Whether an equine activity liability act is powerful enough to defeat an injured minor’s claim depends on the facts and law.

Risk Management

As you consider ways to control liability risks involving children, here are a few ideas:

  • Use incident reports. Develop a form that provides information on the injured person, what happened, where it happened, who saw it, what they saw, the horse involved (if any), and more. Plan to secure these documents for many years. Do not destroy them until you are certain they are no longer needed, preferably after you have consulted with a knowledgeable lawyer.
  • Liability insurance. Make sure that you are properly insured for all of your horse-related activities. Discuss coverages with a knowledgeable insurance agent.
  • Liability waivers/releases. Where allowed by law, make liability waivers/releases part of your routine paperwork, but make sure they are properly worded and signed by at least one parent or legally appointed guardian of the child (the babysitter almost certainly doesn’t qualify as a “legal guardian”). Just as with incident reports, store your signed waiver/release documents securely. When children reach the age of majority, you can ask them to sign your documents.

This article does not constitute legal advice. When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.

Categories: Contracts, Insurance, Lawsuit, Liability

Photo of Julie I. Fershtman

is considered to be one of the nation's leading attorneys in the field of equine law. She has successfully tried equine cases before juries in four states. A frequent author and speaker on legal issues, she has written over 400 published articles, four books, and has lectured at seminars, conventions, and conferences in 29 states on issues involving law, liability, risk management, and insurance. For more information, please also visit www.fershtmanlaw.com and www.equinelaw.net, and www.equinelaw.info.

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Fershtman’s Book Wins National Award

Julie Fershtman’s latest book, Equine Law and Horse Sense, won its fourth national award on May 31, 2021. It was selected to receive a "Finalist" Medal in the 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. 

The 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards are presented by Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group, which is the largest International awards program for indie authors and independent publishers. Here’s a link for the complete list of 2021 winners and finalists: https://www.indiebookawards.com/winners.php?year=2021 

Fershtman’s Book Receives Award

Julie Fershtman’s book, Equine Law & Horse Sense, published by the American Bar Association, has been selected to receive a 2020 NYC Big Book Award in the category of “Reference” books.

The NYC Big Book Awards draws nominations world-wide. This is the third award for Fershtman’s book since its publication last year. Here is a link for more information, and to see the list of winners: https://www.nycbigbookaward.com/2020winners

Information on the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/164105493X/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0

Fershtman’s Book Receives Award

Julie Fershtman’s book, Equine La & Horse Sense, published by the American Bar Association, has been selected to receive a 2020 NYC Big Book Award in the category of “Reference” books.

The NYC Big Book Awards draws nominations world-wide. This is the third award for Fershtman’s book since its publication last year. Here is a link for more information, and to see the list of winners: https://www.nycbigbookaward.com/2020winners

Information on the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/164105493X/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0

Our Equine law blog (and its author) in the news!

Julie Fershtman, author of our popular and prolific Equine Law Blog, was interviewed by the State Bar of Michigan. The interview, which called Fershtman "Lawyer-Blogger," discussed our Equine Law Blog. We truly believe that this blog is the nation's most active blog serving the equine industry on equine law topics, and we thank you for visiting it. Read more here.

Julie Fershtman’s Recent and Upcoming Equine Law Speaking Engagements Include:

National Conference on Equine Law in Louisville, Kentucky on April 29, 2020. Topic will be on Waivers/Releases of Liability Involving Minor Participants. 

U.S. Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) Annual Convention in Denver, Colorado on December 10, 2019. Topic will be on Equine Liability. 

IRMI Emmett J. Vaughan Agribusiness Conference (“AgriCon”) in Sacramento, CA (April 2019), and Richmond, VA (June 2019) and in Des Moines, IA (September 2019), on topics of “Equine Activity Liability Acts” and “Equine Mortality Insurance Disputes.”

National Conference on Equine Law in May 2019 in Lexington, KY, on the topic of “Equine Activity Liability Act Updates” and liabilities involving hosting of equine clinics. 

Agricultural Claims Conference in Kansas City, MO, in March 2019 on topics of “Loose Livestock Liabilities.”

2018 American Bar Association Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL, on “Equine Mortality Coverage and Disputes.”

November 2018, American Horse Council webinar on “Equine Liability.”

Honors & Recognitions

Equine lawyer, Julie Fershtman, has received these prestigious equine industry awards from respected equine organizations:

"Excellence in the Advancement of Animal Law Award" - American Bar Association Tort Trial & Insurance Law Section Animal Law Committee

"Distinguished Service Award" - American Youth Horse Council

"Industry Service Award" - Michigan Equine Partnership

"Catalyst Award"- Michigan Horse Council

"Outstanding Achievement Award" - American Riding Instructors Association 

"Partner in Safety Award" - American Riding Instructors Association 

"Associate Service Award" - United Professional Horseman's Association

"National Partnership in Safety" Award" - Certified Horsemanship Association 

What our Equine Law Services can Provide

Handling breach of contract, fraud/ misrepresentation, commercial code, and other claims involving equine-related transactions including purchases/sales, leases, mare leases/foal transfers, and partnerships.

Litigating disputes in court or through alternative dispute resolution (arbitration, mediation, facilitation).

Defending equine/farm/equestrian industry professionals,  businesses, and associations in personal injury claims and lawsuits.

Drafting and negotiating contracts for boarding, training, sales, waivers/releases, leases, and numerous other equine-related transactions.

Representing and advising insurers on  coverage and policy language as well as litigation;

Advising equine industry clubs and associations regarding management, rules, bylaws, disputes, and regulations.

Representing some of the equine industry's top trainers, competitors, stables, and associations.

Counseling industry professionals, stable managers, and individual horse owners. 


Did you know Julie Fershtman has spoken at the American Horse Council Annual Meeting, Equine Affaire, Midwest Horse Fair, Equitana USA, US Dressage Federation Annual Meeting, North American Riding for the Handicapped (now PATH International) Annual Meeting, American Morgan Horse Association Annual Meeting, American Paint Horse Association Annual Meeting, US Pony Clubs, Inc.'s Annual Meeting, All-American Quarter Horse Congress, American Youth Horse Council Annual Meeting, American Riding Instructors Association Annual Meeting, CHA Annual Meeting, and numerous others? Consider signing her up for your convention. Contact Julie.

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